Richard Jolley

by Beverly Copeland, Editor & Publisher, Glass Focus. Note: Parts of this article were excerpted from an historic interview with Richard Jolley done by Glass Focus in 1998.

Richard JolleyRichard Jolley has been working with hot glass since 1975. Early on he became adept at creating figurative images that seemed to tell a story. His work is simple but elegant and evocative, reminiscent of the classical Greek style. His color palette is breathtaking. His passion for exploration and discovery is evident in the way his work has evolved over more than 40 years. Jolley states, “Glass is a dichotomy. It’s breakable, but when it’s liquid , it is just like a pastry decoration.” The medium can be yielding or stubborn, but Jolley enjoys what he does with it, “making something out of nothing.”

Jolley’s journey into glass began in 1971 at a small liberal arts school, Tusculum College in Greenville,TN. The instructor, Michael Taylor had been a student of Harvey Littleton. Jolley says, “I took the course, enjoyed it and didn’t know enough to stop. There was very little knowledge available about glass back then, it was pretty much from the blob and drip school. If you looked at the glass that was being made then, the work was very similar. Most of the stuff got dripped on the floor. There was this experimental flavor of having this hot, spontaneous, material that you were trying to make things with. There was a sense of discovery.” Even though Jolley basically supported himself from the beginning, he says,“those early years were pretty lean. I was not really in business. I realized that I was not going to be a doctor or lawyer, yet I wanted to be a productive member of society. The route for me was to become a visual artist. From the first I felt very attracted to the medium and felt I could become very competent at it. My work has always utilized the blowpipe. I was one of the earliest people to work solid on the pipe, without blowing, other than the Italians. I look at glass as a modern material that has an ancient history.”

Richard Jolley
In 1988, he and his former student, Tommie Rush, married. Jolley and Rush share a large studio in Knoxville, Tennessee, where they both express themselves artistically, by creating works of beauty out of hot glass. Jolley says, “In mid-life, you kvetch about aches and pains from the physicality of the work, but getting into art is a lifestyle choice. As a sculptor there is a tendency to use your body as a tool, so you get aches and pains that go along with injuries and mishaps. It seems as though you wake from a dream one day to realize that you have been involved in a journey with a material and process for over half your life and still there is so much more to discover. One of the joys I have with this expressive material, glass, is that I am making something from nothing. Being an artist is a lifestyle that I enjoy. Being an artist has afforded me the opportunity to travel to different places and meet a lot of people. As I’ve developed my reputation, I’ve gained respect and doors have been opened into new spheres. If I had done something else, I wouldn’t have had these opportunities.”

Richard JolleySince establishing his studio in Knoxville, in 1975, Jolley has participated in over 65 solo museum and gallery exhibitions throughout the United States and in Australia, Europe, Israel, and Japan. In 1997, the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, organized the first extensive exhibition of Jolley’s mature glass sculptures; and in 2002, the Knoxville Museum of Art presented the first major retrospective of Jolley’s work, which later traveled nationally to 14 museums over five years. In 2011, the Mobile Museum of Art presented Richard Jolley and Tommie Rush: A Life in Glass, featuring an extensive body of work by Jolley his wife, Tommie Rush, a respected glass artist in her own right. In addition, Jolley’s works have been showcased in numerous important museum surveys of contemporary glass. His work appears in over 30 international museums.

Richard Jolley
Richard Jolley’s latest project, Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity, is a seven-part narrative and one of the largest figurative glass-and-steel assemblages in the world. It reveals Richard’s exceptional artistic rigor and vision—an aesthetically stunning masterwork that is also an engineering marvel. The project, commissioned in 2009 by art patrons Ann and Steve Bailey, for the Great Hall of the The Knoxville Museum of Art, and took five years to complete. Jolley was given carte blanche for the 105 foot wall, using seven to eight tons of glass and steel in its conception and completion. The installation comprises seven components: Primordial, Emergence, Flight, Desire, Tree of Life, Contemplation, Sky.

Cycle Of Life: Technical Information

SIZE: 105 feet long, 12 feet high (22 feet high from the base of Tree of Life to its highest branch).

The Sky portion is 90 feet by 9 feet.

WEIGHT: 7-8 tons.

Jolley states, “In mid-life, you kvetch about aches and pains from the physicality of the work, but getting into art is a lifestyle choice. As a sculptor there is a tendency to use your body as a tool, so you get aches and pains that go along with injuries and mishaps. Being an artist is a lifestyle that I emjoy. Being an artist has afforded me the opportunity to travel to different places and meet a lot of people. As I’ve developed a reputation, I’ve gained respect and doors have been opened into new spheres. If I had done something else, I wouldn’t have had these opportunities. It seems as though you wake from a dream one day to realize that you have been involved in a journey with a material andprocess for over half your life and still there is so much more to discover, uncover, and be covered-up by. One of the joys I have with this expressive material, glass, is that I am making something from nothing.”

Richard Jolley
This year Richard Jolley will receive the Distinguished Artist award from the venerable Smithsonian Institution.